City pop has become a hot topic worldwide thanks to artists like Mariya Takeuchi & Tatsuro Yamashita being discovered by new fans overseas who have breathed life into the genre once again. While the City Pop boom may have started with fans in the west, there are a plethora of budding young artists in Japan who are taking their own influence from 80’s music and creating something amazing.
It’s no secret that we here at OTAQUEST are big fans from ORESAMA, the 2 person music unit made up of vocalist PON & trackmaker Hideya Kojima. Their style blends disco & funk to create a sound that sounds both fresh & familiar at the same time. Couple that with the iconic imagery they employ on their albums from artist Utomaru, and you have what is clearly a recipe for success.
They recently sat down with m-flo’s ☆Taku ︎Takahashi to conduct an interview for our friends at block.fm, and we have been given the opportunity to share that interaction with you in English.
I was really influenced by the band Pizzicato Five
☆Taku: Thank you for inviting me to the “Disco Side” of your event, “ORESAMA Presents POPUP NIGHT”. This is the first time we’ve been able to meet, so I was hoping we could have a nice chat. I sense some Nile Rodgers-ish strumming and funk from your guitar playing, even some elements of Japanese city pop from the 80’s. How did your two-person group, ORESAMA, come together?
Kojima: That came about back when I was going from band to band, I ended up in a band that lacked vocals. That’s when I heard that Pon here is a great singer, so I invited her.
Pon: And I was looking for someone to play music with, so it only took two replies before we started. That was the first time we spoke with each other.
☆Taku: What? You’d never met before? What kind of scene was this when he invited you?
Pon: At the top of the [school] staircase. *laughs*
☆Taku: That must have set quite the mood. *laughs* What music were you playing back then?
Kojima: I was in a cover band. I love Sheena Ringo, so we covered songs by Tokyo Jihen and Ringo.
☆Taku: And how did you find your current sound?
Kojima: Bands break up at graduation when everyone goes their separate ways, so I came to Tokyo alone to make music. Using music sequencing software. But I never felt confident with my own voice, so I asked Pon if she would provide vocals for the songs I write. That’s about the time when ORESAMA’s standard for songwriting was established.
☆Taku: What did you think back then, Pon?
Pon: His tracks were much less complex back then, but I really liked his melodies. One thing led to another.
☆Taku: Did the addition of Pon’s vocals make you feel like creating your current disco-like sound?
Kojima: Nope. See, I was really influenced by the band Pizzicato Five. I wanted to make music that sounded like theirs.
☆Taku: I see. When was that, again? It must have been around the time Maki Nomiya was singing.
Kojima: That’s right. I was listening to songs like “The Night is Still Young” back then. Pon can do a cute singing voice but she can also put incredible power into her singing, and that’s why our [ORESAMA] typical melody is how it is.
☆Taku: Do you two have discussions to decide the theme of your compositions?
Pon: I’m pretty sure you always decide it.
Kojima: I do. We start each composition by meeting and talking about what kind of song to make. But, I always make the melody and tracks before sending them to Pon so she can add the lyrics.
Pon: And if I like it, I reply. *laughs*
☆Taku: So you don’t reply if you don’t like it? *laughs*
Kojima: That’s pretty much it. *laughs* In those cases, I think “I guess this song was a dud” and then set about making the next one.
Pon: Not that many of them are duds these days. *laughs* We also decide whether to make the lyrics first or the melody first with our recent meetings.
☆Taku: So there are some times when the lyrics come first. And the melody is inspired by the lyrics?
Kojima: That’s right. I use emotional keywords to find the high points in a song, and then make the melody around it. There are some times when I ask whether we can change the lyrics so that I can put the high point of a song on a certain word.
It felt like the concertgoers connected with us through anime
☆Taku: To tell you the truth, I first learned about ORESAMA through your artwork. The ORESAMA worldview really came through in some of Utomaru’s 80’s-ish illustrations. I was fascinated by that, and your city pop sound. Your artist photos together and Utomaru’s illustrations are great.
Pon: An artwork team we’ve worked with for a long time said we would “look great in an animation.” I’m a big fan of 80s and 90s anime myself, especially “Urusei Yatsura”, so those dots connected easily.
☆Taku: Utomaru’s drawings do certainly ring of the early stages of “Urusei Yatsura.” But, “Urusei Yatsura” isn’t from the current generation. Rumiko Takahashi also made Inuyasha…
Pon: And “Ranma 1/2” and so on.
☆Taku: That’s a good example. Amongst all of those, why “Urusei Yatsura”?
Pon: I wish I could live in the town of Tomobiki-machi from “Urusei Yatsura.” The gags were big and crazy, and all my worries would feel insignificant. Also, I really admire Lum’s confidence in herself as a woman. You might even say I only like its main character Ataru because Lum likes him.
☆Taku: Ataru never ever cheated on her, did he.
Pon: Not successfully, anyway. *laughs*
☆Taku: I have to wonder if he was ever really serious about his moves on other girls. He certainly loved getting numbers [from girls], though. *laughs*
Pon: Ataru has this one good line, “I want to stay free from the girl I like so that I can keep liking her”, and I really get where he’s coming from.
☆Taku: Ah, that’s a line from “Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer.” That might be my favorite film by Mamoru Oshii. That sense of looping was great, and that’s why I like looping stories even now. ORESAMA gets a lot of anime tie-ins. How do these orders come to you most often?
Kojima: Most of our requests are like, we’re given a certain theme to insert ORESAMA flavor into.
☆Taku: “OPEN THE WORLDS” from April  felt even more acoustic than ever before. There’s a raw drum and bass-like part to it, maybe a bit slower than your average drum and bass.
Kojima: That’s right. Given how I like disco, most of my tunes have a BPM around 125, but most of our orders ask for a sense of “running.”
☆Taku: That’s typical for the industry, huh. *laughs*
Kojima: That brings the tempo higher and higher, eventually making a disco approach ineffective. I was looking for a new form of expression to suit it, and one thing that I found was the feeling of piano and other acoustic instruments. Up at around 150, the drums lose their funky 4-beat hits.
☆Taku: There certainly has been a lot more of music made for anime, and events related to anime music. Not long ago you two were in Singapore for ANIME @ NORTH WEST. Did you feel that getting involved in anime connected you to the world?
Kojima: Performing in Singapore, I definitely felt that way. It felt like the concertgoers connected to us through anime.
Pon: I seriously felt the same way. If it weren’t for the opportunities with anime, as we are now, we probably would never get the chance to perform overseas.
Kojima: Being able to perform outside of Japan has had an effect on my composing, too. For instance, listeners in Singapore really respond to constant beats and loops, whereas in Japan people respond to music with strong highs and lows. There are songs that you’d never get people to clap along to in Japan unless you ask them to, but people will all clap along overseas. By recognizing those mechanisms, there’s been an effect on how I make music and sound. That’s why I’m hoping for more experiences in the future.
☆Taku: On the other hand, aren’t you worried you might get type-casted into a group that just sings anime songs?
Kojima: I honestly don’t feel like we’re a group that’s about making “anime songs”. It’s more like, new songs from ORESAMA are being used by anime. However, I think that it’s all that experience making anime songs that gave us the desire to have an event that features city pop and disco at its core.
I wasn’t born into the generation where disco was king, but I long for the kind of environment where everyone freely dances as they please
☆Taku: And as for “POPUP NIGHT”, I’ve been given the honor of performing for the “Disco Side”, but what kind of night do you two visualize it as?
Kojima: I wasn’t born into the generation when disco was king, I’ve only seen it in video– but I long for the kind of environment where everyone freely dances as they please. That’s why I’m hoping for an environment where we get to sense “dancing.” The kind of dancing you can’t help breaking out in. But then, I’d also like to make it into an event that feels like a club performance.
Pon: The disco/pop sides of the concert are a great opportunity for people who got to know us through anime songs to come to know ORESAMA’s disco and city pop. We’ve come this far, we have to make it an event that brings that all out. What’s more, I’m the one deciding the setlist for the pop side, while Kojima’s making the setlist for the disco side. That’s another part of the event I hope people enjoy.
☆Taku: And I’m thrilled to be part of it, but if I may ask, why did you choose me? *laughs*
Kojima: I actually have a lot of respect for you.
☆Taku: Oh, please! *laughs* I’m flattered, though.
Kojima: When I’ve got music-writer’s block, I put on “BEAT SPACE NINE” to study how sounds are woven together and how chord progression works. Plus, that album is a part of the “m-flo loves Who?” series.
☆Taku: The second part of “loves.”
Kojima: Listening to that, I realized that I ought to become the kind of songwriter whose music is worthy of being sung by someone. It really encouraged me to do my best as a composer, as a man behind the scenes, so I attribute “BEAT SPACE NINE” to all my experience writing music for all kinds of people. Since then, I’ve always respected and admired you.
☆Taku: Well hold on then, is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Kojima: Huh… Well, what kind of environment do you compose in? Bottled up in a studio, or someplace removed from a studio?
☆Taku: It depends on my mood, but right now, I do my work in-studio. I put down my iMac in a little studio room with just a little outboard sampler… But, there are times when I’ll bring my laptop to a cafe. With headphones. There was a time when I was sitting in a cafe from 11 AM to 1 AM the next morning at a cafe owned by a friend of mine. I ate all three meals there.
Kojima: Can I ask you one more thing?
☆Taku: Ask away! *laughs*
Kojima: I read in an interview that you don’t really like vocal recording sessions.
☆Taku: That’s right, I don’t. But I do it anyway. There are two ways of thinking about it. Do you remix your song as through you’ve got a cappella for it? Or do you direct the singing so that it goes the way you want it to. Honestly, I don’t really care if the vocals don’t go exactly the way I imagined they would. It’s cool if it’s different, too. Do you like vocal sessions?
Kojima: I’m not fond of them either. *laughs*
☆Taku: *laughs* See, when vocal recording sessions are going smoothly, we’re both happy, but when they aren’t, we’re both equally distressed. *laughs* And there’s nothing people on the direction side can do to help when that happens. This is exaggerating, but it’s kind of like delivering a baby that way. I can get really wrapped up in the harmful energy of that mindset. Then, is there anything you want everyone on the disco side like DÉ DÉ MOUSE and me to do?
Kojima: What…? *pained smile* This will sound presumptuous, but…
☆Taku: Talk straight with me. *laughs*
Kojima: Throw in an ORESAMA song.
☆Taku: You’re okay with that? Playing your songs?
☆Taku: There’s this unspoken agreement that nobody DJs songs from the event’s headliner.
Pon: Then if Kojima says it’s okay, then you can make his dream come true. *laughs*
Kojima: You’ve got my okay. I welcome it.
☆Taku: I’ll tell DÉ DÉ too, then. I’ll tell him “Kojima will be mad if you don’t play one of his songs.” *laughs*
ORESAMA’s POP UP Night “Disco Side” & “Pop Side” events feature a range of different artists performing in different venues in the heart of Shibuya’s club district on September 12th & 17th, if you happen to be in Tokyo at the time you can find more information on both events at their official website. Once again we would like to thank our friends at block.fm for their cooperation in this publication of this interview, ☆Taku ︎Takahashi for conducting the interview, and ORESAMA for their time!